The sixth play off place was up for grabs as the Leeds Rhinos took on the Salford Red Devils at Headingley Stadium. Salford are the current incumbents but a win for the Rhinos would lift them from ninth into sixth and push their opponents back down to seventh.
Both sides had decent results last time out with the Red Devils beating St Helens and the Rhinos performing a miracle fightback to beat the Catalans Dragons with twelve men after being demolished in the first half.
It was an intriguing fixture with little to choose between the two sides on paper.
It was a great start for the Rhinos, Harry Newman going in with just ninety seconds on the clock when Richie Myler ran rings round the defence to put in the crucial pass. Rhyse Martin added the conversion for the start which sent the South Stand into raptures.
An error by Dan Sarginson, failing to collect a bomb with Richie Myler chasing down to claim possession and go in for the second Leeds try inside the opening six minutes. Martin was again accurate with the boot for 12-0.
Leeds third try came on eighteen minutes after a penalty and a set restart with Newman pushing through four tacklers and finding Martin to stretch for the line. The Rhinos second rower added the extras to his own try for 18-0, the Rhinos coasting.
Salford finally had some possession in decent field position on twenty-one and with the ball moved wide Joe Burgess found some space to cross. Marc Sneyd was unable to add the conversion from close to the touchline.
Just after the half hour Salford scored a terrific try, Ken Sio being on hand to take the ball after Alex Gerrard and Andy Ackers had done all the hard work in midfield. Sneyd was again wide of the mark, the Red Devils still ten adrift of the Rhinos but edging back into the game. The first half had been won by Leeds but there were signs that they were fallible.
Salford continued their resurgence at the start of the second when after eight minutes their made their dominance pay with Brodie Croft running rings around the Leeds defence to go in. Sneyd added the extras for 18-14, the Red Devils now well on top in the game but still trailing on the score board.
A great break by Fusitu´a saw the Rhinos winger almost go the length of the field and Leeds then earned a penalty which Martin accepted the opportunity to slot between the uprights with a quarter of the game remaining.
A wayward pass from Ryan Brierley was intercepted by Ash Handley who went the length of the field, outpacing the chasing defenders, to relieve the pressure on the Leeds line. Martin added the conversion for a twelve-point lead with thirteen minutes left on the clock.
With just under ten minutes remaining Akauola was yellow carded for a swinging arm as the Red Devils discipline started to slide as their frustrations at being behind on the score board. Martin kicked the resulting penalty goal for as fourteen-point lead. The Rhinos were easing themselves into the play-off places.
The win was sealed on seventy-eight when Rhyse Martin crossed for his second off a short ball from Cameron Smith. Martin added the conversion for his seventh goal of the afternoon and a 34-14 win.
It was an afternoon of double celebration for Rohan Smith´s revitalised Leeds Rhinos side as they both made it into the play-off places for the first time in 2022 and guaranteed that they cannot be overtaken by Toulouse Olympique XIII before the end of the season. They were stretched at times by a flamboyant Salford outfit but a couple of silly mistakes and a sin-binning from the visitors cost them in the end.
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker, Handley (T), Sutcliffe, Newman (T), Sezer, Myler (T), Fusitu´a, Thompson, O´Connor, Oledzki, Bentley, Martin (2T, 7G), Smith. Subs: Gannon, Walters, Tetevano, Dwyer.
Salford Red Devils: Sarginson, Sio (T), Cross, Lafai, Burgess (T), Croft (T), Sneyd (G), Ormondroyd, Ackers, Akauola, Taylor, Watkins, Gerrard. Subs: Brierley, Wright, Atkin, Luckley.
Score Progression: 4-0, 6-0, 10-0, 12-0, 16-0, 18-0, 18-4, 18-8 : HT : 18-12, 18-14, 20-14, 24-14, 26-14, 28-14, 32-14, 34-14 : FT.
Lead Exchanges: Leeds.
Referee: Ben Thaler.